I Don’t Speak French, Ben*

I am currently reading a book titled, “Imagined Communities” by Benedict Anderson.  I’ve actually already read parts of it when I was still in college; unfortunately, 5 years had already passed since I first read that text and most of it have already been wiped out from my memory.

After unintentionally purchasing the revised and Philippine edition of the said book last year, I finally decided to get myself seriously acquainted with it again this time around.  (yes, I don’t immediately read the books that I buy!)

The book explores the idea of nationalism – why people kill and love in the name of their countries. Essentially, it proposes that a nation is in fact, an imagined concept; hence, the title “Imagined Communities.”

It should be a very fascinating read, I bet.  But I am not writing this entry to discuss the book.

I haven’t even gotten through chapter 2 yet.  Instead, I just want to share a part of the introduction, which I find a bit… funny.

In page 6 of the introduction, Anderson writes:

             “It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.  Renan referred to this imagining in his suavely back-handed way when he wrote that ‘or l’essence d’une nation est que tous lest individus aient beaucoup de choses un commun, et aussi que tous aient oblié bien de choses.’10

Since my knowledge of the french language is almost close to zero, and I assumed that the author would translate what he just quoted from renan for his non-french speaking readers, I looked at the footnote hoping to find a translation and some clarification.  This is what the footnote said:

10.  Ernest renan, ‘qu’est-ce qu’une nation? In oeuvres completes, 1, p.892.  He adds: ‘tout citoyen français doit avoir oublié la saint-barthélemy, les massacres du midi an xiii siècle.  Il n ‘ya a pas en france dix familles qui puissent  fournir la preuve d’une origine franque…”

All I understood was “he adds..”  What an enlightenment!

Note to self:  look up an English-French translation page on the web tonight.


*Note:  I have relatively more free time at work these days so I decided to bring a book with me to the office.  While going through my humble book collection, I saw “Imagined Communities” and remembered that I had written a blog entry about it years back.  This is a repost of that blog entry written in November of 2008.

If you’re wondering if I have already finally completed reading it, well, the answer is no.  Unfortunately, I realized then that I had to read other books first that were related to this one so I could fully understand Mr. Anderson, but I never found the time to research anymore.  So I ended up putting off reading the book time and time again.  Hopefully, I get to finish this within this decade!

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